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Non-district tuitions cost Highlands $2M

Anticipation of an increasingly tight financial situation due to the $5 billion state budget deficit prompted Highlands School District Business Manager Jon Rupert to go on the offensive Monday.

Rupert told the school board that Highlands’ costs for students attending schools outside the district will exceed $2 million this school year.

At the top of the heap is $730,000 in tuition for Highlands students who choose to attend charter or cyber schools, at a net cost to the district of $511,000 once the state reimbursement is figured in, he said. Rupert said there are about 20 students doing that.

In addition, out-of-district special education costs carry a hefty price tag.

“We also pay $400,000 to certified private schools and over $400,000 for students placed at other schools for special needs,” Rupert said.

Transporting those special ed students will cost the district $600,000 this year, he said.

“With 80 to 90 percent of the school costs being fixed, it’s a major ticket,” Rupert said.

“I’m letting our board and our taxpayers know this is a big, expensive item and, without some legislative help, we’re going to be stuck with the whole bill,” he said.

He said the district shouldn’t be saddled with tuition costs for charter schools.

If the Legislature is looking to help districts balance their budgets, ending that practice would certainly help, he said.

“The way I always understood it is you are guaranteed a public education,” Rupert said. “If you wanted something else, then it was up to you to pay for it.”

“It’s basically a voucher supporting cyber schools,” said board President Debbie Beale. “It’s not fair. It needs to be looked at.”

She said school boards throughout the state are looking at the situation and how it can be remedied through changing the law.

Charter schools are self-managed public schools approved by local school districts, according to the state Department of Education website.


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